Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Last Week's Book: Syntactic Structures

Not much to say on this one except that it was an interesting read, surprisingly quick, and I certainly have never read the same book twice for Book a Week.

October 21-27: Syntactic Structures by Noam Chomsky

Linguistics (1957 - 117 pp.) 

Syntactic Structures is, much like What Is the West?, a short, focused, ambitious work with a huge ambit and not a lot of space. Syntactic Structures is very dense, with different ideas presented as often as about twice every three pages. The underlying premise, of a "rigorous and objective approach" (94) to the construction of sentences in the English language, is naturally interesting for anyone in love with the written word. The book is difficult for a non-specialist (a group including me), yet Chomsky explains his points with little enough jargon or symbols that it is easy enough to ford. 

I cannot offer anything approaching an informed comment as to how convincing Chomsky's propositions are. That has already been covered elsewhere. From the non-specialist's view, though, I did find Chomsky's argument against the use of defining grammar by semantic means effective. I also enjoyed his sentence path chart (19) and his chart explaining placement of subjects and predicates (27), which are perhaps among the simplest illustrations the book has to offer. I am not entirely certain that transformations solve the entirety of the English language without introducing too many exceptions, but then, that is for the linguists to decide. 

Something worth mentioning is the format of the book. Chomsky does this quite well overall - I tend to prefer books with many short sections to few long sections, and he offers up dozens of bites on his subjects. Each time he changes gears, he adds a new section or subsection number within a broader chapter, which helps greatly. He also numbers all of his examples, making them valuable reference points. If there is one thing that could be added, it would be a list of all of his numbered examples added to the appendices. I have not flipped back and forth through a book this much since Lone Wolf

This is definitely a niche book. It does not contain any history of the English language, nor does it contain much insight into how language is interpreted. It claims neither. To those with an interest in exploring the structural roots of English, it will please. 

Ease of Reading: 2 
Educational Content: 7

No comments:

Post a Comment